Where the Wailuku River meets Hilo Bay on the eastern side of Hawaiʻi’s Big Island is the town of Hilo, Hawaiʻi. Hilo was a major center of trade in ancient Hawaiʻi, where native Hawaiians came to trade with others across the Wailuku River.
Westerners were attracted by the bay which provided a safe harbor; missionaries settled in the town in 1824 bringing Christian influences.
As the sugar industry grew in the late-1800s, so did Hilo. It became the major center for shipping, shopping and weekend diversions.
The Hilo Downtown Improvement Association (DIA) is a non-profit organization established in 1962 to preserve and revitalize Hilo’s historic district.
The DIA serves as a collaborative, community voice that works to promote, support, and sustain the history, culture, environment, and economy of the area.
One program is the Historic Downtown Hilo Walking Tour. This self-guided walking tour of historic Downtown Hilo will take about one hour if walked continuously.
The twenty-one stops along the way provide information about the town from 1870 to the present. The history of Hilo begins much earlier, however, with the arrival of the Polynesians in 1100 AD.
They eventually inhabited the shores of Hilo Bay, farmed their crops, fished, and traded their goods with each other along the Wailuku River. Changes came to this lifestyle upon the arrival of missionaries who brought with them new ideas, education and Christianity.
Hilo became a stopping place for explorers curious about the active volcanoes, whaling ships, and traders. By the 1900s a number of wharves had been constructed, the breakwater was begun, and a new railroad system designated Hilo as the center of commerce.
Two destructive tsunamis in 1946 and 1960 caused a shift in the location of Hilo’s government and commercial life.
Today, new and old businesses alike are meeting the challenges of revitalizing our city center while preserving its historic cultural character. (Lots of information here from Hilo Downtown Improvement Association (DIA.))
Here are the list of stops on the walking tour:
1 Moʻoheau Park Mass Transit Bus Terminal – Visitor Information Center
The Moʻoheau Bus Terminal, central station for the Hele-On bus system, is home to the Visitor Information Center. Here the helpful staff can provide you with information on accommodations, activities and dining in East Hawai’i as well as maps, brochures and bus schedules. It’s also Headquarters for the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association.
2 Farmers Market
Conceived and developed in 1988 by Richard “Mike” Rankin, the Hilo Farmers Market had a humble beginning with only four farmers who sold their goods from their parked cars and trucks. Today, the market has grown to over 200 vendors selling everything from fresh island fruits and vegetables to locally grown tropical flowers, special Big Island food products, handmade craft items and beautiful gifts made with Aloha.
3 S Hata Building
Built by the Hata family in 1912, this is another example of renaissance revival architecture in Hilo. It has now been remodeled to house restaurants, shops, and professional office space. In the building, The National Oceanographic Institute has constructed the Mokupāpapa to interpret the natural science, culture, and history of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding marine environment.
4 AOF Building – Ancient Order of Foresters
This building is still used by the Ancient Order of Foresters, a group whose European origins were chartered to assist members during times of need. King Kalākaua was a member of this fraternal order. The building was constructed in 1925 in the renaissance revival style with arched entryways, balconies and col-umns used for decorative purposes.
5 Taishoji Soto Mission
Archbishop Mokusen Hioki, from Eiheiji monastery in Japan, visited Hawaii after the completion of the World Buddhist Conference in San Francisco, California in 1915. He found many immigrants eager to establish a Soto Zen Temple. He gathered the followers together at a meeting in Hilo and promised to send a Zen priest from Japan. Money was raised from the newly formed membership and property was purchased for $5,500. The first half was paid on Jan 8th, 1917. A contractor was hired and the cornerstone with the inscription of the Hannyashingyo Sutra was laid in April 1918.
6 Central Christian Church
Haili Street at one time was called Church Street because there were five churches along its route. Today three re-main, one of which is Central Christian Church. It was built for the Portuguese speaking community in the early 1900’s. The two buildings on the property look much the way they did when they were built.
7 Haili Church
The first church building, a large grass canoe shed provided by the local chiefs, was completed and dedicated on May 19, 1824 near the site of the present Hilo Iron Works. The present structure, started in 1854, was completed and dedicated on April 8, 1859. On July 15, 1979, fire destroyed the tower, ceiling and some of the interior of this building. The restored church was rededicated on June 1, 1980.
8 St Joseph Church
The first chapel located on bayfront was made from pili grass and was called Saint Martin de Tours. Father Charles Pouzot, SCC became the first pastor of the parish in 1845. By 1848 the small grass chapel was replaced by a new wooden structure. In 1862 the parish of St. Martin de Tours had once again outgrown its place of worship. A new larger church was built in the area of Kalākaua Park on Keawe and Waiānuenue Avenue. On July 9, 1862 Bishop Louis Maigret, Bishop of Honolulu dedicated the new church to Saint Joseph. Later, Father Beissell purchased the property on the corner of Kapiʻolani and Haili Streets in 1915. The large community of active faithful including, among others, Hawaiian and Portuguese families worked together to build their new church. The cornerstone was laid in 1917 and the church was dedicated at its present location in February 1919.
9 Lyman Museum & Mission House
The Lyman Museum began as the Lyman Mission House, originally built for New England missionaries David and Sarah Lyman in 1839. The original Lyman House was a “Cape Cod” type with a high, steep pitched thatched roof with dormers making up the second floor. The second floor was divided into sleeping quarters for some of the Lyman’s eight children. The Rev. and Mrs. Lyman were also founding members of the First Foreign Church, a church established in 1868 for the foreign residents of Hilo. The Lyman Mission House is the oldest standing wood structure on the Island of Hawai`i and one of the oldest in the State.
10 Library/Naha Stone
Traditions tell us that the Naha Stone, the larger stone, was brought by canoe from the chiefly valley of Wailua on Kauai to Hilo many centuries ago. The stone resided at one of several heiau (temples) in the Hilo area and was said to have been associated with traditions of affirming chiefly status. Young aliʻi (royalty) infants were placed alone on the stone. If they did not cry they were said to be of high royal status. The physical ability to move the massive stone was also seen as a sign of high chiefly capacity. The young aliʻi Kamehameha was known to have confirmed the prophecy that he would become a great warrior king by moving the stone while he was in his early 20s. The Pinao Stone, the upright stone, has less certain origins but is associated with the former Pinao Heiau that once stood on or near the site of this State Library. These two great stones are associated with sacred Hawaiian traditions and are held in high cultural esteem by Hawaii’s people. Please do not sit or climb on the stones.
11 Federal Building/Post Office
The Federal Building located across the street from the north end of the park. Designed by architect Henry Whitfield, it is typical of the early 20th Century government buildings. Today, it houses government offices, including the downtown branch of the United States Post Office. The original structure was built in 1919, and the two wings were added in 1936.
12 Kalākaua Square
Hilo became a visiting place of the king who designed the first county complex at this site in the late 19th Century. The park contains a sundial bearing the inscription. “This sundial was erected in the Fourth Year of the reign of King Kalākaua, A.D. 1877, Hilo, Hawaiʻi.” The trees in the park were planted during King Kalākaua’s time, making them over one hundred years old.
13 East Hawaiʻi Cultural Center
Originally the old Police Station, it was vacated by the Hilo County Police Department in 1975. Today, it is the home of the East Hawaii Cultural Center. The building resembles a Hawaiian hale (house) of the 1800s with its hipped roof. It is operated by the East Hawai’i Cultural Council, a coalition of organizations and individuals dedicated to preserving cultural, creative and traditional arts in Hawai’i, to foster community involvement with culture and the arts; and to coordinate activities and resources among East Hawai’i arts and cultural community. The Council was founded in 1967 with six charter organizations reflecting Hilo’s multi-ethnic heritage.
14 Hawaiian Telephone Building
CW Dickey is credited with developing Hawaiian Regional Architecture in the early 20th Century. Note the high-hipped, green tile roof and the brightly colored terra cotta tiles set in the building.
15 Burns and the Pacific Buildings
These wooden buildings are typical of many in Hilo constructed in the early part of the 20th Century. The simple style that emerged is now very special to Hawai’i.
16 Kaikodo Building – Hilo Masonic Lodge
Hilo Masonic Lodge Hall, also known as the Bishop Trust Building, is a historic structure in Hilo, Hawaii. Constructed between 1908 and 1910, it was designed to house commercial space on the ground floor and a meeting hall for a local Masonic lodge on the second floor. In 1985, the Masons moved to new premises, and since then the second floor has been rented to a variety of tenants. Kaikodo Restaurant was here.
17 Koehnen’s Building
It was originally built for the Hackfield Company in 1910, with interior walls of koa and floors of ʻōhiʻa woods. The Koehnen’s bought the building in 1957 and today the family operates a store which sells fine furniture, gift items, silver and china.
18 Kaipalaoa Landing Wharf
Between 1863 and 1890 wharves were built at the foot of Waianuenue Avenue where passengers and freight were transported between the wharf and steamers anchored in the bay.
19 Pacific Tsunami Museum
This sturdy concrete building with its parapet, fluted columns and wrought iron design was built in 1930. It survived both the 1946 and 1960 tsunami and is now a museum chronicling the history of Big Island tsunamis and the resulting reconstruction of the city. The Pacific Tsunami Museum embarked on a project with the County of Hawai’i Planning Department to assess and assist businesses with their tsunami preparation and planning.
20 SH Kress Co Building
When it opened in 1932, floral designs, batwing shapes, and the terra cotta front contributed to introducing a new kind of architecture Art Deco. The interior of the store offered many shopping conveniences including wide aisles, good lighting, and a popular soda fountain.
21 Palace Theater
The Palace was built and opened in 1925 at the peak of the heyday for American movie palaces. It was originally part of a small family of theaters owned and operated by Adam C Baker, a dashing Hawaiian gentleman who was the nephew of the last royal governors of the island of Hawai’i. Adam Baker had been involved in the theater business since the early 1900s and was a well-known showman in Hawai’i. The Palace was built on a scale that had never been seen outside of the capital city of Honolulu, and it was always the grandest theater on all the neighbor islands.
The image shows the overall map for the Historic Downtown Hilo Walking Tour. I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.